WebOS has had a strange and troubled life. After surviving an acquisition, cancellation, and an open-source rebirth, the next chapter in the WebOS story is being written today. LG, a South Korean electronics giant, has officially purchased the mobile operating system from HP, but not for smartphones. Instead, LG is buying WebOS for use on smart TVs.
In 2009, Palm launched WebOS on the Palm Pre to substantial critical acclaim. A few months into 2010, HP acquired Palm, and started work on numerous new projects. New phones, a tablet, and even an x86 port of the OS were set in motion, but it wasn’t long lived. Less than two months after the launch of the WebOS-based Touchpad tablet, HP discontinued all devices running the quirky mobile operating system. Since then, Léo Apotheker was ousted as CEO of HP, and Meg Whitman has taken charge. WebOS was open-sourced, and a potential relaunch of WebOS devices was even hinted at by HP. Clearly, that isn’t going to happen now.
According to CNET, this deal includes all of the source code, engineers, and related websites for the platform. In addition, LG will be licensed to use WebOS-related patents that HP happens to own. While LG has pledged continued support for current WebOS users, it’s clear that it doesn’t intend to revive the brand on mobile devices. While LG certainly can’t revoke any released open-source code, it’s safe to assume Open WebOS is effectively dead.
The WebOS team will merge with LG’s current research and development locations in Silicon Valley to spearhead future smart TV products. The WebOS team has satellite offices in San Jose and Chicago, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see all of those consolidated into a single location. While we don’t know what LG ended up paying for WebOS, it’s obvious that it wants the technology and talent for a specific purpose. While smart TVs might not be what WebOS enthusiasts desire deep down in their hearts, at least it has a real future now. Frankly, it’s better for WebOS to be absorbed into a bigger project than for it to die slowly in open-source obscurity.
Having seen some of the extremely lackluster smart TVs available today, I’m hopeful that LG will actually pull this off. WebOS has had many problems, but that team always aimed for the fences. If this accomplishes nothing else, let’s hope that this at least inspires LG’s competitors to up their game in the smart TV space.
[Image credit: Aaron Parecki]